Steve Nash (above) will not be pushing the ball as much in Phoenix's new system, which will limit fast-break opportunities for the high-flying Amaré Stoudemire.
Four of the Suns' returning starters shot 50 percent or better last year, helping them become the first team since the '96-97 Jazz to make at least half of its field goal attempts in a full (nonlockout) season.
Record: 55-27 (T-4th in West) Points scored: 110.1 (3rd in NBA) Points allowed: 105.0 (25th)
With three of its core players 34 or older, the retooled team gears up for a last playoff run
Befitting their Wild West setting, the Suns have run a shoot-'em-upoffense the past four years, with point guard Steve Nash at the trigger. Butwith new sheriff Terry Porter in town -- not to mention aspiring sheriff ShaquilleO'Neal in the lineup -- Phoenix has put its Seven Seconds or Less attack under atombstone inscribed r.i.p.
"I'm a believer in playing up-tempo, but it has to start with defense," saysPorter, who replaces Mike D'Antoni. "You make stops, and that enables you torun. That's a different mind-set than in the past."
Porter knows offense-first players such as Nash, Amaré Stoudemire and LeandroBarbosa won't turn into stoppers overnight, but he believes he can at leasttoughen up the team's soft underbelly. The former Pistons assistant has spentmuch more time working on defense in practice than did D'Antoni, emphasizingbasics such as getting back in transition and steering opposing ball handlerstoward the baseline, where O'Neal and Stoudemire can block or alter shots. "Themain thing is to play with more of an edge and to be consistent," says Porter."I want them to do it every night."
Come the playoffs, Porter hopes that the added defensive moxie will help themavoid the type of collapse that they suffered in Game 1 of theirfirst-round series against San Antonio last April, when they blew a 16-pointlead and lost in double overtime, a heartbreaker from which they neverrecovered. Will Phoenix learn from that meltdown? With an aging core in O'Neal(36), Nash (34) and Grant Hill (36), this could be its last roundup. -- Marty Burns
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